After a year of what can loosely be deemed “retirement” from the sidelines, former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians accepted the same position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
One of Arians’ first orders of business was the hiring of former Arizona offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich to hold the same spot in Tampa. It is believed former New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles will be reunited with Arians to coach the defense. Bowles held that very spot under Arians in Arizona from 2013-14.
We will focus primarily on the offense for this analysis, yet it should be noted that Bowles’ expertise on defense can only help the other side of the ball.
Leftwich’s role in the playcalling is the most crucial element to understand, and it would be short-sighted to expect Arians to completely remove himself from the offensive calls. Leftwich took over as the offensive coordinator after Mike McCoy was fired Oct. 19. Arizona would go on to finish last in scoring (14.1 PPG), 20th in rushing percentage of total plays (39.4%), 13th in pass attempts percentage of total plays (60.6%), and dead last in offensive yards a game (241.6). … It doesn’t take a statistician to tell the Cardinals were dreadful on offense.
In Leftwich’s nine games calling the plays, he, like McCoy, couldn’t consistently get the ball in the hands of star running back David Johnson via the passing game. In 2016, Johnson took the league by storm and caught 80 passes on his way to a total of 20 touchdowns. DJ was targeted 4.3 times per game under McCoy, which minimally increased to 5.1 under Leftwich. It actually resulted in lower touchdown efficiency but a higher per-reception average by a full yard. Johnson averaged five receptions in 2016.
The offense was supposed to run through Johnson with a rookie quarterback in Josh Rosen at the helm, and Leftwich never figured it out. To his credit, the defense didn’t exactly play well over the final nine games, being particularly bad in the last three contests. Tampa Bay doesn’t have an established rushing attack and is built through personnel to pass the football. Thus, it is not entirely fair to hold too much of this against Leftwich. Jameis Winston has his flaws, but he is miles ahead of the 2018 version of Rosen.
Nevertheless, the looming concern over just how seasoned is Leftwich has to be at the forefront of questioning whether this offense succeeds. Nine uninspiring games under his belt as an OC suggests this will be as much of a learning experience for him as it is a teachable moment for Arians.
One staple of Arians’ coaching history that will carry over, regardless of the person calling plays or the quarterback taking the shots — he is relentlessly committed to taking chances. This doesn’t exactly quantify to tangible fantasy football data, although it is reassuring to know a coach is not one to turtle up with a dink-and-dunk approach.
Where did Arians’ offenses rank during his time in Arizona?
At its finest, Arians’ offense was as explosive and dangerous as any in the league.
As one can quickly see, Arians is no stranger to throwing the football being no lower than 19th in attempts. As a former collegiate quarterback, it is in his DNA. The Cardinals primarily had Carson Palmer during Arians’ tenure, and the running game wasn’t quite settled until Johnson’s emergence in 2016.
Even though Johnson was a fantasy beast that year, Arizona remained committed to Arians’ penchant to throw the ball and put it in his hands through the air to help overcome deficiencies along the line while taking advantage of his skills in the open field.
New year, new team?
Looking at the 2019 Tampa Bay roster, fully expect Winston will be the starting quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a free agent. Other prominent free agents include wide receiver Adam Humphries, left tackle Donovan Smith and third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin. Running back Peyton Barber is a restricted free agent, which gives the Bucs the first crack at matching any offers he may receive on the market.
Carrying a $10 million cap charge, wideout DeSean Jackson is unlikely to return and reportedly wants out anyway. Backup tight end Cameron Brate has a $7 million hit and could be asked to restructure or take a hike.
As you can see, that is not a lot of schedule turnover for the personnel. Tampa desperately needs to figure out if 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones is capable of contributing in a meaningful way. Barber played admirably but isn’t the answer. Unless the new coaching staff can coax something out of Jones, it appears doubtful that he is, either.
Continuity and chemistry go a long way in the successful implementation of a new system. The lack of wide-scale changes on the horizon gives this offense a bright outlook.
Fantasy football takeaway
The offense will thrive and fail on the arm of Winston. He has posted respectable stats at times in his four-year career but has largely disappointed. Cutting down on costly turnovers will be key. Can Arians get the most out of him over the summer months? To be determined — but if anyone can get him to turn the corner, Arians figures to be that guy. For now, Winston is a risky QB2 but has considerable potential given the system and cast of weapons.
As touched on, the running game is a total unknown at this point. Look for someone else to join the fun. The position offers a few intriguing options to be worked into this backfield in some form of a committee approach. Latavius Murray, Mark Ingram, Spencer Ware, T.J. Yeldon, Mike Davis, Damien Williams, Ameer Abdullah, Adrian Peterson, C.J. Anderson … all have value in their own ways but are not the long-term solution.
Wide receiver is the strongest position for this offense with perennial stud Mike Evans leading the way. Chris Godwin is an up-and-comer, offering a bona fide WR2 for this passing game — and also possibly for gamers. Returning Humphries would be a wise move, but no one is going to argue as if he is a critical piece of the puzzle. Justin Watson was a fifth-round pick last year and will be in the mix this offseason.
Tight end O.J. Howard’s season came to a premature end due to foot and ankle injuries. He should be 100 percent, barring setbacks, for the 2019 season and potentially offers another No. 2 receiver to this offense. His vertical nature and upward trajectory should have fantasy owners excited, even if the position hasn’t been a staple of Arians/Leftwich offenses. They haven’t enjoyed a talent like Howard, however.